As you may have seen on the news or read in the paper, on January 1, 2011, certain amendments to the Iowa Code provisions governing carrying weapons went into effect. In a nutshell, the amendments made it easier to get a non-professional permit to carry weapons in the State of Iowa. See SF 2379, 2010 Iowa Acts ch. 1178. Many employers have inquired whether the amendments curtail their ability to ban weapons in the workplace. The short answer, for private employers and K-12 schools at least, 1 appears to be no.
The first point to note is that Iowa Code chapter 724, to which the amendments apply, is a criminal statute, not a civil statute regarding the rights of private property owners. The primary thrust of chapter 724 is to make carrying weapons in Iowa a crime, except under certain circumstances. See Iowa Code § 724.4(1)-(3). The main exceptions are:
It is not a crime to carry a gun in your own house or place of business, or on land you own or possess;
It is not a crime for a peace officer, member of the armed forces or national guard, or correctional officer, to carry a weapon in the course of their duties;
It is not a crime to carry a gun while hunting or engaging in target practice at a shooting range; and
It is not a crime to carry a weapon if the person has a professional or non-professional permit to carry weapons.
As stated above, the January 2011 amendments make it easier for people to obtain non-professional permits to carry weapons. Under the old law, a person had to be able to "reasonably justify going armed," and county sheriffs had discretion to grant or deny permits. Under the new law, the presumption is shifted in favor of granting permits; applicants are entitled to permits (if they complete a firearm training course) unless they are ineligible under a list of six disqualifying reasons. See Iowa Code § 724.8.
Many employers have inquired as to whether they can prohibit individuals from bringing guns onto the employers' property even if such individuals have permits to carry weapons. The answer, at least with respect to private employers and K-12 schools, appears to be yes. Obtaining a permit under section 724.4 decriminalizes the activity of carrying a weapon; however, it does not confer an affirmative right to carry a weapon wherever one wishes, such as onto the grounds of a K-12 school, or as onto private property where the owner has prohibited weapons. After all, private property owners have constitutional rights to regulate who may or may not enter their premises and the conditions upon which they may do so (e.g., "no guns"). See Iowa Const. art. I, sec.1. Moreover, Iowa Code section 724B.4B and 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2) generally prohibit carrying weapons onto the grounds of K-12 schools. A "Frequently Asked Questions" document issued by the Iowa Department of Public Safety also suggests that the January 2011 amendments do not change the rights of private employers/businesses to regulate bringing guns onto their premises.
We hope the foregoing discussion has been helpful as you evaluate the impact of the new Iowa "Concealed Carry" law and consider whether to implement or amend your employment policies and/or post "No Firearms" signs at your place of business. If you have further questions about these issues, please do not hesitate to contact the member of the Ahlers & Cooney Employment Practice Group with whom you normally work.
Ahlers & Cooney's Employment & Labor Law Practice Group
1 The analysis for public employers (other than K-12 schools) is more complicated, due to preemption and home-rule considerations. Public employers other than K-12 schools (cities, counties, public post-secondary schools) should consult with counsel on this issue.
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